We are living in a time of great change. Our economy has shifted from an industrial system to one that is influenced and directed by new technology. Those of us who are over 40 have experienced significant change in the way we work and communicate, from the internet and smartphones to perhaps soon the driverless car. Sometimes this new technology can become a disruptive social force that leads to changing cultural norms and expectations.
This summer we were awakened to the news that the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. I’m not sure those who voted for the “Brexit” fully understood the consequences of their vote, but they clearly were frustrated with the rapid pace and nature of change. Similar forces of frustration and change have emerged in our own political system, as evidenced by the results of this year’s presidential election. In many ways, the future seems more uncertain now than at any point in my lifetime.
I keep in my office the letters and addresses of one of our most significant university presidents, Levi Pennington. I have found few leaders wiser or more thoughtful. In 1939, on the cusp of World War II and the disappearance of democracies across the globe, he noted, “The world is in a rapidly changing state, and the task of preparing young men and women for life in it is not an easy one. . . . We who are educators must prepare young people for life in this rapidly changing world. What is to be our guiding principle? What shall determine our aim and methods?”
Of the many things he wrote, I found this comment the most meaningful: “It is my personal conviction that the one most positive preparation for life is character. To develop industry, versatility, resourcefulness, dependability, alertness, honesty, straightforwardness, self-reliance, the power to give and to secure cooperation, a genuine love for humanity and loyalty to God and truth – if the teacher can succeed in developing character of this sort, his or her work cannot fail.”
The challenges we face today are quite different from those of the World War II generation. At the same time, Pennington’s advice seems as valuable now as it did then. While George Fox University must always be relevant and looking toward the future in its work, it remains rooted in important core commitments that do not change. We are focused on preparing people for work, but not just for a particular job or career. Our hope is that we are developing people of character and commitment who will love God and their neighbor. People who will see beyond the moment and look to a future that will indeed be different – more just, more humane, and with a greater understanding of God’s love.
In 1891, evangelical Quaker pioneers founded a small college built on a vision of not just excellence in education, but on creating disciples of Jesus Christ. Whether in 1891, 1939 or 2016, our core commitments remain constant and lasting.
Levi Pennington served as president of Pacific College (now George Fox) from 1911 to 1941 – the longest tenure of any Oregon college president.
Today, 125 years later, we are excited for the future. Not knowing what tomorrow may bring, we hold fast to our faith, looking for God’s guidance as we continue to prepare students to be salt and light in their communities.